Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine has transported Europe back to 1945 & WWII.
There’s not much that doesn’t shock you about Russia’s invasion and on-going occupation of eastern Ukraine. The daily wanton cruelty and suffering inflicted on civilians by Russia’s forces & Russia’s sham Donetsk and Luhansk republics. The widespread destruction of the region which has seen over a million people flee their homes and tens of thousands of houses damaged and destroyed.
Despite the grinding hell of it all, the sight of tank traps, mines and wire lining a beach is perhaps most shocking of all. We associate such things with the brutality of WWII, not Europe in 2020. But this is indeed a beach in Europe, just a few hours flight from most European countries. A beach which before Russia’s 2014 invasion was like any other. A popular beach where excited children played in the sand, where families enjoyed a day out from the nearby city of Mariupol and from where local fisherman earned a living from the Azov Sea.
Today apart from Ukrainian soldiers, the only ones who visit this once popular European beach are stray dogs. Their innocent, inquisitive strolls along this deserted beach mimic those of the civilians who once flocked here. The major difference now being, the dogs routinely get blown to pieces because they trigger mines buried beneath the sand.
In 2014, having invaded and occupied Crimea, Russia then invaded eastern Ukraine. Wanting to create a land border to Crimea, Russia’s forces needed to capture the city of Mariupol on Ukraine’s Azov Sea south coast. Just 8km from Mariupol is the seaside resort of Shyrokyne. This large village comprised around 700 houses and buildings with the population in 2001 put at 1,411. Seen below, a long 2km sandy beach lines its seafront.
Russia’s military advance along Ukraine’s south coast was stopped at Shyrokyne, but the village and those living there paid a heavy price because of it. Heavy street fighting and shelling in 2014/15 forced the entire population to evacuate their homes. Today it’s one of several battle scared ghost villages and towns scattered along the front line. With Russia’s forces dug in just east of it, Ukrainian forces effectively hold the village, but their main defensive positions are just west of it, on a ridge overlooking Shyrokyne.
Fearing a seaborne amphibious attack which might outflank Ukrainian defences, Ukraine fortified the coastline. A mixture of metal and concrete tank traps, wire and mines have been used to stop a possible beach invasion. Starting from the nearby beachfront village of Berdyanske, these run for 2km and cover the entire length of Shyrokyne.